Beer Man

The Twelve Best Newly Packaged Colorado Craft Beers of 2016

The craft-brewing world felt a squeeze at the top this year as the number of breweries across the country soared past 4,000 and the number of bottled and canned offerings grew by the thousands. In Colorado, where there are approximately 360 brewing licenses, competition was as fierce as ever among beer makers who package and sell their heady creations. Two breweries, the Wynkoop and Twisted Pine, stopped packaging altogether, while two dozen or so others entered the market for the first time.

It's not easy to keep up, and I can't physically try them all, no matter how hard I try. To help narrow things down, this list only covers the packaged beers that meet two criteria: They must have been bottled or canned for the first time in 2016, and they had to be relatively easy to find in the Denver/Boulder area, meaning the average person could have walked into a suitable liquor store and pulled one off the shelf. Some of them had been brewed before but never packaged. Others were new variations on old tricks. But all of them were delicious, and some are still available — or will be again next year.

As you can see, they also tilt decidedly toward the heavy, hoppy, barrel-aged variety of styles because, well, this is my list and that's what I like. But there's also a lager on the list, as well as two saisons. Happy new year — and new beer.

’Bout Damn Time
4 Noses Brewing

Standing out as an IPA in a state that is chock-full of them is like a New York City waitress trying to stand out as an actress on Broadway: It’s a long shot. But 4 Noses is making a name for itself, and ’Bout Damn Time is leading the way. West Coast in style, but with less bitterness and a hint of tropical flavors on top of the citrus and pine, the beer is easy to drink, even at 7 percent.

Red Wine Barrel Aged Apis IV
Elevation Beer Company
Poncha Springs

This was one of the most unusual and interesting beers I tasted in 2016. To create it, Elevation aged its brilliant Belgian-style honey quadrupel in cabernet sauvignon barrels. The end result had distinctly sweet notes of grapes and raisins. But where this punchy, 10 percent ABV beer could have gone over the edge into cloying, rotten-fruit flavors, it managed to hold back, ending with an almost dry finish that balanced the sherry-like flavors and rounded them out.

Skiing in Jeans
Grist Brewing
Highlands Ranch

Grist Brewing kicked off its limited-edition seasonal can program with Skiing in Jeans, a bock beer with a fantastic name and an unusual and highly satisfying flavor profile. Brewed with Colorado wildflower honey and Texas pecans, this 6.9 percent ABV lager began as a collaboration with No Label Brewing Company in Katy, Texas, but quickly became a favorite at the Highlands Ranch taphouse. It was lighter-bodied, but packed with earthy flavors of roasted pecans and honey that jumped out of the glass.

Achtertuin Seizoen
The Post Brewing Company

The Post specializes in classic styles and easy-drinking, lower-alcohol beers, a methodology that can sometimes make it difficult to get noticed in a state that is always experimenting with new flavors. But this beer caught my attention the first time I tried it — the rye malt shining below the distinctly floral qualities associated with most saisons. The judges at the Great American Beer Festival must have agreed: They gave it a gold medal in the classic-saison category.

Grapefruit Endpoint Triple IPA
Renegade Brewing

Citrus IPAs snowballed into a giant trend in 2016 to the point that it was impossible to keep up, but Renegade took that trend and turned it on its head with Grapefruit Endpoint. The brewery added 100 pounds of grapefruit to its 11 percent ABV triple IPA, creating a smooth, almost creamy citrus IPA that didn’t have any overwhelming tang or bite — but just enough to round out the heavy hops.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes